April 14 Meeting and Lecture – Supernovae Remnants

The next AAAP meeting will be on Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. in Bowen Hall: (see Princeton campus maps for building and parking locations).  Luke Hovey, a PhD candidate at Rutgers University, will speak to the club about his research on supernovae remnants. A meet-the -speaker dinner for AAAP members will begin at Winberries on Palmer Square at 6:00 pm.  Please RSVP to S. Prasad Ganti if you will attend the dinner.

Supernovae are among the most energetic astrophysical events of which we know with energies on the order of 3 x 10^28 (30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) megatons of TNT. The explosion of their progenitors does not mark the end of the story, but another beginning as the chemically enriched ejecta that is blown outward enriches the gasses in galaxies. Shockwaves of these supernova remnants can trigger and quench periods of star-formation in stellar nurseries, and are thought to be the point of origin of the bulk of cosmic rays that we observe today. We will take a journey exploring the conditions and possible mechanisms of these stellar explosions and explore the astrophysical significance and usefulness in these cataclysmic events.

Luke Hovey is in final semester in the physics PhD program at Rutgers University.  He works with Professor Jack Hughes on young supernova remnants of Ia origin in the Large Magellanic Cloud.  He has  been making proper motion measurements of the forward-shocks in these remnants with multi-epoch Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imaging.  Using these measurements he is able to place limits of the age of these supernova remnants, as well as diagnosing areas where efficient Cosmic ray acceleration may be occurring.  He is also able to use these measurements to constrain the search areas for possible progenitor companions of these supernovae.

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From the Director

by Rex Parker, PhD, Director





Upcoming AAAP Events. Over its five decades our organization has approached amateur astronomy by combining great science presentations by the pros, hands-on telescopic observation, and science advocacy and outreach. To keep the good energy flowing I’d like to invite members to take part and help organize several projects and activities. If you’d like to help please send me a message at director@princetonastronomy.org. Upcoming events being planned include:

  • May 16: Members-only special night at Washington Crossing Observatory.
  • June 19-20: Observing weekend at the renowned astronomy dark sky site, Cherry Springs State Park in northern PA. Arrive Friday afternoon before dark and depart Sunday morning.
  • Date pending: Field trip to the US Naval Observatory in D.C.
  • Date pending: Easy road trip to see the famed Bell Labs Horn Antenna, Holmdel NJ, site of first discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation.
  • Sept 11-13: AAAP hosts Jersey Starquest, an observing weekend at a dark sky site with accommodations at Camp Hope near Jenny Jump State Forest in northern NJ.

Recently we embarked on a project to bring video imaging technology to the Observatory, and plans include opportunities for members to learn astrophotography techniques. Video astronomy (Mallincam) is a first essential step towards advanced imaging technologies, and is intended to help break through some of the difficult problems of observing and sharing interesting deep sky objects to members and the public under our light polluted skies. Due to the substantial equipment upgrade project at Washington Crossing Observatory, the observatory will not be open for public events during the month of April this season. Assuming that the equipment is ready by end of April, we plan to open in May for member and public activities.

Planning for new slate of officers. As provided in our by-laws, I have appointed Michael Wright as Chair of the Nominating Committee to assemble a slate of candidates for the 2015-16 Board of Directors. Any member interested in serving on the Board in the role of Director, Assistant Director, Treasurer, Secretary or Program Chair should contact Mike (editors@princetonastronomy.org). Nominations will be announced at the April 14 meeting, and the election will be held at the May 12 meeting.

Spring is Galaxy Season – Part 2. More galaxies are visible in moderately sized telescopes in spring than any other season, led by the dense galaxy clusters in Virgo. If you’ve never seen a galaxy through the eyepiece of a good telescope, this spring will be a great opportunity to try it. The upgrades now underway at AAAP’s Washington Crossing Observatory (new telescopes, new mount, and video astronomy technology) will make it even better. We hope that recent and long-time members will come out to experience the celestial wonders “hands-on” later this spring. Those interested in learning to use the equipment for your own studies and to be a part of our extensive public outreach programs are urged to attend the regular meetings and talk to Observatory co-chairs, Gene Ramsey and Dave & Jennifer Skitt to develop a plan for your training (e-mail: observatory@princetonastronomy.org).

Color in the New Jersey Deep Sky? – Part 2. If you’re considering getting into astrophotography or you are already on the learning curve, you may have wondered about CCD cameras and techniques best suited for our challenging Jersey and Pennsylvania skies. The recent improving weather conditions helped me to make progress in comparing the two major techniques for deep-sky color astrophotography: one-shot color vs. LRGB. I used two different cameras/filters with the same guided tracking telescope in an observatory here in central NJ (see Part 1 in last month’s ST). As noted last month, one-shot color cameras are thought by experts to be unsuited to light-polluted areas. I wanted to test this by comparing the two methods head-to-head. Below are final images of the spiral galaxy M106, created using each method with the cameras indicated. The sky and moon conditions were similar and total exposure time was the same for each: 4.5 hours. The CCD chips of the two cameras have similar pixel sizes but different total pixel number and sensor area, so their fields of view differ. The resulting images were not cropped. While other celestial objects may compare differently, it’s pretty clear that for a target with low surface brightness like a spiral galaxy (magnitude spread out over a wide angular area), the beautiful blues and reds are more intensely captured and better balanced by the LRGB than the one-shot color camera. While that may not be true from a desert mountain site, it does seem so here in central Jersey. More comparisons will be made in the future to see how magnitude, surface brightness, and type of celestial object affects results.


Messier-106, LRGB (ST-10XME camera & CFW8 filter wheel)








Messier-106, one-shot color (SXVR-M25C camera)








Images by Rex Parker, taken in Titusville NJ. Cameras as indicated; Telescope: AGO 12.5-iDK astrograph; Mount: Paramount-MX; Control software: TheSkyX; Data processing: Maxim-DL5, CCD Stack, PS-CS5.

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Minutes of the March 2015 AAAP Meeting

by Jim Poinsett, Secretary

  • Rex welcomed everyone, gave a brief preview of the meeting topics and introduced John Miller.
  • John then introduced the speaker for the evening Dr. Andy Goulding.
  • It was announced the next board meeting will be on March 17th at 6:45 pm at the West Windsor Library. Topics will be the video addition to the observatory and the disposition of the donated equipment.
  • The Mallincam has arrived and a plan is in place to test it with several telescopes to determine which would be the best one to use.
  • Rex brought up the topic of the Night Sky Network and asked if the club was interested in joining it? Requirements were discussed including the possibility of dues. Larry will gather more information and report to the club.
  • The next topic of discussion was the donated equipment and what to do with it. A couple of the scopes will be tried with the Mallincam to see if they are suitable. The topic will be discussed at the board meeting, possibilities include raffle prizes at StarQuest, keeping and loaning out to members and possibly selling and using the money raised for club activities.
  • Gene Ramsey wants to publicize the availability of the club owned 8-inch Dobsonian for use by members. He also included the binocular eyepiece and will publicize them in the next issue of Sidereal times.
  • Gene also wants to test several of the donated eyepieces for use with the Dobsonian.
  • Other activities suggested were:
    • A members-only night at the observatory on a Saturday night during the summer.
    • A trip to Cherry Springs Park in Pennsylvania, weekends suggested were July 17/18, August 15/16 or May 16/17. The new moon weekend in June is already taken by a star party.
    • A field trip to the Naval Observatory in Washington DC. The tours are on Mondays.
    • A trip to Holmdell to see the Bell Labs Horn Antenna.
  • Larry wants to schedule a viewing night for the Washington Crossing Park trustees, perhaps in May during NJ History Day.
  • Super Science Day is May 9th.  The club is looking for volunteers for the club table.
  • A motion was made and seconded to adjourn the meeting.
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Minutes of the March 17th Board Meeting of the AAAP

by James Poinsett, Secretary

  • The meeting was called to order at 6:45 pm.  The entire board except for Kate Otto was in attendance as well as several members of the club.
  • The first item of business was replacing Kate Otto as Program Chair.  Her new position and move to NY City has made it impossible for her to finish her term. John Miller, Ira Polans and Prassad Ganti will form a Program Committee to finish Kate’s term. The board approved and thanked them taking over the responsibilities.
  • Michael Wright agreed to act as the Nominating Committee and to present a slate of candidates to the membership at the next meeting to be voted on in June.
  • The Night Sky Network was discussed. The main issue is the commitment involved, financial and otherwise. More research is needed. Another possibility brought up was the Astronomical League.
  • The next topic brought up was the website is due for a make-over. There was no disagreement. Mike Wright and Surabhi will work on it and aim to have a beta version ready for September. One suggestion made was for updated member pictures.
  • The camera for the video project, the Mallincam, has arrived. Brian has done some preliminary testing and the camera works. Some initial testing on the donated telescopes will be done at Rex’s house, then more thorough work at the observatory.
  • There was some discussion on the equipment being used at the observatory, which scopes to use? Should the HB refractor be replaced? Currently things stand this way:
    • The Losmandy mount has been removed
    • There is a pier that came with the donated C14.  It will be checked to see if it can replace the mount holding the HB refractor.
    • The board was polled whether each person wanted to replace the HB refractor or keep it. The board was evenly split so it was decided to keep it for this observing season but to mount it on the second paramount side by side with the ten inch Astrograph from the Dixey donation.
    • The donated C14 will be tested side by side with the current C14 to decide if there is significant difference for the newer one to replace the current one.
    • The observatory will not open for public nights until May to allow installation of the video display system and upgrading of the mounts.
  • It was requested to move the club banking from 3rd Federal to PNC, the bank is closer and more convenient. The board approved the move.
  • There will be a members night at the observatory on May 16th.
  • There will be a club trip to Cherry Springs state park July 17-19 or June 19-21, this will be discussed at the next general meeting.
  • Trips to the Naval Observatory and the Bell Labs Horn antennae were tabled for now due to lack of time.
  • In new business Larry talked about pre-planning for an eclipse trip for the August 2017 total eclipse.
  • The possibility of installing a concrete observing pad at the observatory site in lieu of building a second observatory. This would give a more stable place for member scopes with the possibility of providing electricity to observers.
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Treasurer’s Report

by Michael Mitrano, Treasurer

Our membership count is now at 84 – about 10% below our count at the same time last year.

Our recent purchase of the Mallincam brought expenses for the year-to-date up the level of revenue, so we’re now at break-even.  Put another way: we’ve taken a big step toward improving capabilities at the Simpson Observatory without even dipping into our surplus.

On a cumulative basis at this date, the AAAP’s surplus is about $25 thousand.

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UACNJ Resumes Saturday Evening Programs

Jenny JumpJoin UACNJ for a free program at our facilities in Jenny Jump State Forest every Saturday evening from April 4 to October 31.
Our free Saturday evening programs begin at 8:00 PM. Following a lecture on an astronomy-related topic, the public is invited to view the night sky* through our telescopes until 10:30 PM.


Programs and speakers for the month of April:

  • 4/4/2015 What’s up in the April Sky? Lonny Buinis, RVCC
  • 4/11/2015 Naked Eye Astronomy, Jim Norton, NWJAA
  • 4/18/2015 Meteorites, Walter Rothaug, RAC
  • 4/25/2015 Pluto: The Arrival of New Horizons, Jason Kendall, WPU

Please visit http://www.uacnj.org for a list of other topics and speakers.
*weather permitting

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From the Observatory Co-Chairs

by David Skitt, Observatory Co-Chair

John Church, Gene Ramsey and David Skitt install Hastings-Byrne on Paramount ME.  Credit: Jen Skitt

John Church, Gene Ramsey and David Skitt install Hastings-Byrne on Paramount ME. Credit: Jen Skitt

The Hasting-Byrne refractor has been successfully mounted to the “new” Paramount ME mount and the existing cast iron pier! The roll-off roof clears the mount with just over an inch to spare. Keyholders, please be aware the roof flap must be pulled up as high as it can go to safely clear the scope.

After a few adjustments and balancing, we could successfully slew the telescope to the mounts’ ‘home’ position. John Church, Gene Ramsey and I are still working on determining what the optimal ‘park” position should be so, as of this writing, the scope is not quite ready for prime time use. More to come in the upcoming weeks.

John Church and Gene Ramsey point the way.  Credit: Jen Skitt

John Church and Gene Ramsey point the way. Credit: Jen Skitt

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Wanted: Hydrogen-Alpha Scope

by Michael Wright

I received this message from our friends Pat and Mary Hayes. Can anyone help them out?

Hi Mike,

Pat and I were reflecting on what an outstanding club the AAAP is.  It is only when we are away do we appreciate how very advanced it is whether in upgrading its outreach program, supporting astrophotographers, the quality of guest lecturers and the immense knowledge, freely shared, by the members to the “newbees”.  We miss everyone.  Hope you are well.

On a separate note, Pat and I are looking at buying a hydrogen-alpha scope.  Could you put an enquiry into the Sidereal Times to see if anyone has one that they may want to sell?  Otherwise we will go online to see what may be available.

Thanks for your help.

Pat and Mary Hays


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DSLR Astrophotography

by Freddy Missel

The picture of the moon was taken using my Sony DSLR and my Meade ETX90. I created the photo with an 1/200 second exposure and an ISO of 1600.

The picture of the moon was taken using my Sony DSLR and my Meade ETX90. I created the photo with an 1/200 second exposure and an ISO of 1600.



This picture of the Orion belt is taken in my backyard. The image was exposed for 30 seconds and an ISO of 1600.

This picture of the Orion’s Belt was taken in my backyard. The image was exposed for 30 seconds and an ISO of 1600.

The picture of the moon was taken at the unionville vineyard using a Sony DSLR. The image was made with a 30 second exposure and the ISO at 800.

This picture of the moon was taken at the Unionville Winery using a Sony DSLR. The image was made with a 30 second exposure and the ISO at 800.

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Dinosaur Detectives

by S. Prasad Ganti

Both children and adults alike are fascinated by dinosaurs, the supersized “terrible lizards” of the past. Although they became extinct long ago, imaginations were stoked when Michael Crichton brought them to life in his sci-fi novel “Jurassic Park”. Steven Spielberg brought those creatures to life when he made the novel into a movie. Dinosaurs lived long before human beings appeared on the earth hundreds of millions of years ago and perished about sixty-five million years ago. The movie “Jurassic Park” claimed to be sixty-five million years in the making! So, what caused the extinction of these species?

It was long postulated that the birds replaced dinosaurs. The missing link between the two seemingly dissimilar species was the discovery of skeletal pieces of Archaeopteryx. This creature looks partly like a bird and partly like a dinosaur. The evolution of birds from dinosaurs still does not explain the reason dinosaurs ceased to exist on planet earth. Understanding and investigating natural history is not easy. The further you go into the past, more the things become fuzzier. Only part of the artifacts may still be around. Newer techniques needed to be developed to date such fossils.

Related to the existence and extinction of species on earth has been the many changes that the Earth has undergone in about four billion years of its existence: starting off as a hot ball soon after the solar system was formed, cooling off, chemical changes, atmospheric changes, and the appearance of first signs of life as single-celled organisms about three billion years ago. Also important are collisions with other extraneous bodies like the asteroids which are remnants of the formation of our solar system.

The Cambrian explosion occurred around half a billion years ago when the number of species exploded all around the globe. This happened in the ladder of evolution after multicellular organisms appeared and introduction of sex had ensured variety and survivability of the offspring. The Cambrian explosion has nothing to do with any kind of physical detonation like a nuclear blast. Natural historians believe that there have been five mass extinctions to date since the Cambrian explosion. The last of which happened about sixty-five million years ago when the dinosaurs became the casualty. This last one has been investigated in detail, but the details on the ones before are only sketchy.

Enter the father-son duo of Luis Alvarez and Walter Alvarez. Luis is  the famous Nobel prize-winning physicist who travelled on the plane that trailed the Enola Gay when it dropped the first atom bomb on Hiroshima in the Second World War. His son Walter became a geologist. He discovered a peculiar layer of sixty-five million year old rock that which forms a distinct narrow. The layer contains iridium, a chemical element that is found in abundance in the asteroids. The same layer with very similar age was found in several parts of the world.

The father and son duo with a highly skeptical group of scientists developed  the idea that an asteroid came from the space to wipe out the dinosaurs on the earth. The size of the asteroid, the speed with which it burrowed into the earth and the aftermath of the explosion on the climate, including blocking of the sun and stopping most photosynthesis, were modeled in great detail. The earlier volcanic eruption at Krakatoa about a hundred years ago served as a backdrop for this study. The final nail in the coffin was the finding of the impact crater below the sea near the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. This is where an asteroid, several miles across, came crashing down, caused a giant explosion and wiped out the giant species, along with others of varying sizes.

The establishment of this cause was a major triumph for the dinosaur detectives. The fact that climate change has happened in the past and asteroid collisions have been frequent, does remind us of the potential perils that can strike us. We cannot take the safety of our home planet for granted. Of course, there is no reason to despair either. We just need to be aware of history so that we are better prepared to deal with future disasters.

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Submitted by David Kaplan except as noted

Keeping up with Rosetta
Rosetta’s comet is spinning down. The comet being observed by Europe’s Rosetta satellite is very gradually spinning down, most probably because its jets of gas and dust are acting like braking thrusters. BBC

Somewhere on Mars a Burger King…only kidding!Possible fatty acid detected on Mars. A fatty acid might be among organic molecules discovered on Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover. BBC

Australia Finds ‘Huge Asteroid Impact’
Scientists in central Australia discover what they say is a 400 km-wide underground asteroid crater – the largest impact area ever found. BBC

Mars Rover Detects ‘Useful Nitrogen’
The Curiosity rover makes a detection of nitrogen compounds which provide further evidence that ancient Mars would have been a habitable world. 

What is the point of the Large Hadron Collider?
David Shukman explores the justifications for the £4bn ‘atom smasher’ buried under Geneva. BBC

Dark Matter Flits Through Collisions
A long-running study shows dark matter coasts unscathed through galactic collisions, betraying a ghostly lack of interaction with the known Universe. BBC

The Mission of Scott J. Kelly
NASA hopes to learn more about physical and psychological effects of space travel from the mission of Scott J. Kelly, who will have spent more time in space than any American when he returns. NY Times

Astrophotography Talk Forum Forum at Digital Photography Review

Ants In Space Grapple With Zero-G
A study finds that ants on board the International Space Station still use teamwork to search new areas, despite falling off the walls of their containers for up to eight seconds.

Mercury ‘Painted Black’ by Comets
The mystery of Mercury’s dark surface can be explained by a steady dusting of carbon from passing comets, research suggests.

NASA Releases Tool Enabling Citizen Scientists to Examine Asteroid Vesta
NASA (submitted by Michael Wright)

Don’t Try This at Home Guys
Green Light Laser Surgery (submitted by Michael Wright)

Signatures of Earth
A group of international scientists, including AAAP’s 50th Anniversary panelist Lisa Kaltenegger, has created a catalog of reflection signatures of Earth life-forms that provides researchers with a tool to help identify life on exoplanets. PNAS (submitted by Michael Wright)

Supermoon vs. Minimoon: Sizing Up Earth’s Satellite
The so-called “supermoon” has an impressive name, but just how super is the actual event? Taking the true measure of the supermoon means following Earth’s satellite at different points on its trip around the planet. Space.com (submitted by Robert Vanderbei)

Take Stunning Moon Shots From Your Driveway more from Space.com (submitted by Robert Vanderbei)

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NASA Launches MMS Satellite Quartet to Orbit to Study Magnetic Reconnection in 3D

by Dr. Ken Kremer, AAAP and Universe Today

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Space Launch Complex 41, on Mar. 12, 2015, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with MMS spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Space Launch Complex 41. Credit: Ken Kremer

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL –  NASA’s constellation of state-of-the-art magnetospheric science satellites successfully rocketed to orbit on March 12, during a spectacular nighttime launch on a mission to unravel the mysteries of the process known as magnetic reconnection.

The $1.1 Billion Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is composed of four formation flying satellites blasted to Earth orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 10:44 p.m. EDT.  The four spacecraft were stacked like pancakes on top of one another inside the nose cone.

Magnetic reconnection is a little understood natural process whereby magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect while explosively releasing vast amounts of energy.  It occurs throughout the universe.  NASA’s fleet of four MMS spacecraft is the first mission devoted to studying this  phenomenon. Scientists believe that it is the catalyst for some of the most powerful explosions in our solar system.

The night launch of the venerable Atlas V booster turned night into day as the 195 foot tall rocket roared to life on the fiery fury of about one and a half million pounds of thrust,  thrilling spectators all around the Florida space coast and far beyond.

The two stage Atlas V delivered the MMS satellites to a highly elliptical orbit.  They were then deployed  from the rocket’s Centaur upper stage sequentially, in five-minute intervals beginning at 12:16 a.m. Friday, March 13.  The last separation occurred at 12:31 a.m. About 10 minutes later at 12:40 a.m., NASA scientists and engineers confirmed the health of all four spacecraft.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Ken Kremer inspect NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mated quartet of stacked spacecraft at the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Ken Kremer inspect NASA’s MMS quartet of stacked spacecraft at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Credit: Ken Kremer

Each of the identically instrumented spacecraft are about four feet tall and eleven feet wide.  The deployment and activation of all four spacecraft is essential to the success of the mission, said Jim Burch, principal investigator of the MMS instrument suite science team at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas.

“We’ve never had this type of opportunity to study this fundamental process in such detail,” said Burch.

They will fly in a pyramid formation to conduct their science mission, spaced about 10 miles apart. That separation distance will vary over time during the two-year primary mission.  Deployment and calibration process will last about six months. Science ops start September 2015.

MMS measurements should lead to better models for yielding better predicting space weather and the resulting impacts on life here on Earth and aboard the ISS.  Magnetic reconnection is also believed to help trigger the spectacular aurora known as the Northern or Southern lights.

An Atlas V rocket with four MMS satellites is poised for blastoff at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Mar. 12, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

An Atlas V rocket with four MMS satellites is poised for blastoff at Cape Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer

The probes were built at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland where I visited them in the clean room.

For complete details check out my articles and photos at Universe Today:




Astronomy Outreach by Dr. Ken Kremer

SpaceX Launches:  Apr 11-13, NASA Kennedy Space Center, FL. Evening outreach  at Quality Inn, Titusville, FL

NASA Mars Rovers and the Future of Human Spaceflight: April 18/19, NEAF, Rockland Community College, Rockland, NY.

Please contact Ken for more info, science outreach presentations and his space photos. Email: kremerken@yahoo.com   website:  www.kenkremer.com http://www.universetoday.com/author/ken-kremer/

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